Empiricism and Freedom in Early African American Culture
New York University Press 2017
New Books in African American StudiesNew Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Intellectual HistoryNew Books in Literary StudiesNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Science & TechnologyNew Books in Science, Technology, and SocietyNew Books Network May 26, 2017 James Stancil
Traversing the archives of early African American literature, performance, and visual culture, Fugitive Science: Empiricism and Freedom in Early African American Culture (New York University Press, 2017), uncovers the dynamic experiments of a group of black writers, artists, and performers. The author chronicles a little-known story about race and science in America. While the history of scientific racism in the nineteenth century has been well-documented, there was also a counter-movement of African Americans who worked to refute its claims.
Far from rejecting science, these figures were careful readers of antebellum science who linked diverse fields–from astronomy to physiology–to both on-the-ground activism and more speculative forms of knowledge creation. Routinely excluded from institutions of scientific learning and training, they transformed cultural spaces like the page, the stage, the parlor, and even the pulpit into laboratories of knowledge and experimentation. From the recovery of neglected figures like Robert Benjamin Lewis, Hosea Easton, and Sarah Mapps Douglass, to new accounts of Martin Delany, Henry Box Brown, and Frederick Douglass, Fugitive Science makes natural science central to how we understand the origins and development of African American literature and culture.
Britt Rusert received her Ph.D. in English and certificate in Feminist Studies from Duke University. Her research and teaching focus on African American literature, American literatures to 1900, speculative fiction, the history of race and science, U.S. print cultures, and critical theory. She is currently working on a book-length research study of William J. Wilson’s “Afric-American Picture Gallery,” a text that imagines the first museum of black art in the United States. She is also editing W.E.B. Du Bois short genre fiction with scholar Adrienne Brown. Their edition of W.E.B. Du Bois’ fantasy story, “The Princess Steel,” was recently published in PMLA, the journal of Modern Language Association of America. Fugitive Science: Empiricism and Freedom in Early African American Culture is her first book.
James Stancil is an independent scholar, freelance journalist, and the President and CEO of Intellect U Well, Inc. a Houston-area non-profit dedicated to increasing the joy of reading and media literacy in young people.